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The eleven-year-old daughter of a hostage killed by so-called Islamic State has faced one of the men responsible for her father’s death and told him: “It’s not easy to be the girl in school whose dad was killed by terrorists.”
Athea Haines, 11, who was just four years old when she lost her father David when he was murdered in Syria, appeared in court in the US at the sentencing of Londoner Alexanda Kotey, who was jailed for life after admitting his role in the plot.
The youngster was among 13 people, including her own family and the families of other victims of the so-called “Beatles” Isis terrorist cell, who read heart-breaking impact statements to the court.
Some said their families were “forever broken” and described closure as “just a word to make bystanders feel better”.
Judge Thomas Selby Ellis said the victims of the terrorist’s brutal crimes were all “undeniably heroes”.
Speaking alongside her mother Dragana, sister Bethany and uncle Mike, Athea Haines told Kotey her father’s death had “affected my life in so many ways”.
“Sometimes I get sad when I see my friends laughing and playing with their fathers,” she said.
“It’s not easy to be the girl in school whose dad was killed by terrorists.”
David Haines’ eldest daughter Bethany described Kotey and his co-conspirator El Shafee Elsheikh, who also sat in court to listen to the impact statements as “monsters”.
Speaking about her father’s death, she said: “He has not been laid to rest, he has been dumped like a bag of rubbish.”
“I wonder why monsters like these men are on this earth while my dad isn’t … the anger bubbles inside me like a volcano and eventually it erupts.
She continued: “I have heard a lot of people talk about forgiveness. But to get forgiveness you have to ask for forgiveness.
“Neither of these men have expressed one ounce of remorse. These men are selfish and only care about themselves.
“I have no pity for them and hope they are forced to think about (the things they have done) and regret them for the rest of their lives.”
Ms Haines also quoted words of the prophet Muhammad to the pair before telling them: “No matter what you say, this was not about religion.”
Dragana Haines told both Kotey and Elsheikh that she hoped they lived “for 200 years” with their crimes.
“For all I care you can live long and suffer,” she said.
In more shocking testimony, the court heard how the daughter of British aid worker Alan Henning, another of the group’s victims, had discovered a picture of her father’s headless body while scrolling on Instagram.
“He wasn’t a religious man or into politics, he was just my dad,” Lucy Henning told the court.
“If I wasn’t such a moody teenager maybe he wouldn’t have gone (to Syria),” she added, drawing gasps of sympathy from members of the court.
“In my eyes I feel just as much to blame as anyone else.”
Kotey was charged in relation to the killings of four US hostages, journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
Delivering her own statement, Mr Sotloff’s mother, Shirley, repeatedly told Kotey and Elsheikh to look at her while she was talking to them.
Ms Sotloff said the experience was like “something you see in movies, not real life”.
“We are forever broken by the loss of our beloved son and defined as the people from the horror movie,” she said.
Peter Kassig’s father, Ed, said: “They say time heals all. They lie.
“Closure is just a word to make bystanders feel better. For us, the operating word is forever.”
Ms Mueller’s father Carl described how the trial had made him question his faith, saying: “I have always considered myself a religious man and a patriot.
“Throughout this all I have lost my faith in God and my faith in my government.”
He added that the sentence imposed on Kotey had restored his faith in government and the US legal system, also praising the terrorist’s attorneys, adding “without them the system doesn’t work”.
Representing his entire family, Mr Foley’s brother Mike said that his brother was “in many ways, more alive than ever” through the ongoing work and bravery of journalists around the world.
He said his brother’s name and the names of the other victims were now “known around the world and inspire moral courage in journalists”.
Addressing the pair, he added: “Love is stronger than hate. I pity you for choosing hate.”
Kotey was given one life sentence for each of the eight counts he has pleaded guilty to, which are due to run concurrently.
After handing down the sentence, judge Ellis told him: “My mother said to me four months before she died, there is no evidence of an afterlife.
“I don’t have any knowledge or belief that any such thing exists, but if there is maybe you can make recompense there.”